What are paraplegia, hemiplegia and quadriplegia?

3 Min Read

An injury to the spinal cord can be a profound and life-changing event.

The spinal cord (the system of nerves system encased in your vertebrae) and the brain are the key components of the body’s nervous system. If either one of these suffers an injury, the body and the brain struggle to communicate with each other, causing motor and sensory impairments.

In cases where a spinal cord injury caused paralysis of the limbs, there can be varying levels of damage and disability. Our guide below takes you through the basics of some of the main types of paralysis injuries.

What is paraplegia?

Paraplegia is caused by an injury of the spine at a site below the neck, below the first thoracic spinal nerve and within the sacral lumbar regions. With an injury in this region, sufferers usually lose all feeling and movement in their legs but have full control of movement in their arms.

What is hemiplegia?

Hemiplegia (also known as hemiparalysis) is a condition caused by an injury to the brain. Like a stroke, hemiplegia only affects one side of the brain; therefore, its effects are usually down one side of the body. As with all brain injury, the effects can be non-physical as well as physical. It is not always apparent that a person may have hemiplegia, as it can sometimes manifest in learning and behavioural disabilities rather than in paralysis.

Hemiplegia can be caused by trauma, an infection (such as meningitis or encephalitis), a systemic disorder (such as leukaemia) or hypertension (high blood pressure) in the heart. It is can also be caused during childbirth. Approximately one in 1,000 children in the UK are diagnosed with hemiplegia.

The condition is life-long but sufferers can find better quality of life through therapy and support such as physiotherapy and occupational therapy.

What is quadriplegia?

Quadriplegia (sometimes referred to as tetraplegia) is usually caused by an injury high up in the spinal cord, usually in the neck region. This results in loss of motor control below and, sometimes including, the neck. As you would expect, the more severe the injury, the worse the outcome. Usually a patient will lose all sensory function below the neck as well. Other conditions that can cause quadriplegia are cerebral palsy (commonly caused by a traumatic birth injury) and stroke.

Sufferers of paraplegia and quadriplegia need extra care, as damage to the central nervous system can have effects beyond paralysis. For instance, patients often experience a loss of control of the function of the bowel and bladder. As patients will typically not be able to feel pain, infections such as urinary tract infections can set in unnoticed  which can become life-threatening. Numbness to external pain can also manifest in pressure sores, burns and skin conditions, which are always a high risk to a patient who is immobile. The lack of movement in the legs and in other parts of the body put the patient at increased risk of blood clots.

Spinal cord injuries can be caused by road traffic or workplace accidents, or be a negligent complication of other medical surgery. Even if the injury is not caused by negligent surgery, there can also be complications afterwards if the correct care isn’t given.

How we can help

 Our team have helped many people who were left with a spinal injury through circumstances that weren’t their fault. Contact us today for a confidential discussion about your no-win, no-fee claim.